Since the early 2000s, the number of deportations has increased significantly in the U.S. While numbers have been declining somewhat during the Trump administration, they reached their peak – conspicuously – under Obama in 2012 and 2013. This earned the former president the nickname deporter-in-chief, but those numbers only tell half the story.
In fact, there have been two competing systems of removing foreigners from the United States for a while: Formal deportations which need a court order and have a paper trail; and informal, so-called returns, which basically means people caught crossing the border illegally are simply driven back across the border and dropped off there. Obama inherited a system of more formal immigration proceedings from his predecessor George W. Bush, who started the change over from thousands of returns to more formal deportations, also in connection with the founding of ICE, which is responsible for immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, in 2003.
The total number of people deported or returned from the U.S. has been declining since the year 2000 and accelerated its downward trend during the Great Recession. In FY 2018, more than 330,000 people were deported from the U.S., while only around 110,000 were informally returned. Economic progress in Mexico translated to a drop in Mexicans crossing the border. Now, immigrants from Central America attempt to cross the southern U.S. border more frequently. While this caused border arrest numbers to increase sharply in FY2019 to around 850,000 (and will almost certainly lead to higher deportation numbers down the line), figures for the late 1990s and early 2000s are still somewhat higher. Back then, between 1 million and 1.5 million people were arrest per year trying to cross the border.